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Laughter Yoga: Laugh your way to good health!

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May 09, 2008

It starts with some chuckles, grows into giggles and then launches into belly laughs. And, when mixed with yoga, it becomes 'laughter yoga' -- the fun way to reduce stress.

According to University of Michigan Health System fitness experts, laughter yoga -- part of a growing trend in parts of the United States, India and other countries -- can really make a difference in your overall health.

Not only is it fun to laugh, but laughter yoga (also known as Hasya yoga) can provide many health benefits: help to reduce stress, enhance immune system, improve cardiovascular function, and even tone muscle, the experts said.

Barb Fisher, a certified laughter yoga leader and the instructor of the laughter yoga class offered by the U-M Health System's MFit health promotion division, said that the students in their course group are re-learning something children already know instinctively: that laughter makes you feel better.

"Kids laugh about 400 times a day, and adults only about 15. Laughter is a gift that has been given to us to make us feel better," Fisher said.

Hasya yoga can provide many health benefits -- it serves to reduce stress, enhance the immune system, strengthen cardiovascular functions, oxygenate the body by boosting the respiratory system, improve circulation, tone muscles and helps with digestion and constipation.

 "Studies have shown that 20 seconds of a good, hard belly laugh is worth three minutes on the rowing machine," Fisher said.

"However, that does not mean we want to stop doing all other exercises. It means that incorporating laughter yoga can add to the benefits we see from our regular exercise routine," he added.

Like more traditional fitness classes, laughter yoga requires a warm-up period. Since students can't necessarily start a class prepared to break out into deep laughter, they begin with the clapping and chanting mentioned above. Then they perform breathing exercises, followed by stretches and laughing games.

The students in Fisher's class have discovered the mental and physical benefits of these and other laughter exercises.

"The biggest effect that I've gotten from laughter yoga is what it's done for me mentally, and that it has lightened up my day and my week," says Deborah Slosberg.

Photograph: Getty Images

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